In an impressive foray of unity and industry-wide support, several of Arizona's major farm and ranch organizations have formed an aggressive coalition to defeat an out-of-state animal activists-supported initiative headed for the Arizona General Election ballot on Nov. 7. If passed by voters, Arizona hog and veal producers would be required by law to increase stall sizes for hogs and veal calves.
If Proposition (Prop) 204 passes, producers failing to make changes could face up to six months in prison and a $20,000 fine. The proposal has perked up the ears of livestock producers and related livestock organizations around the nation.
“Just plain and simple — the proposal is hogwash,” said Jim Klinker, chair of the agriculture-based Coalition for Arizona Farmers and Ranchers (CAFR) that developed the clever and simplistic ‘hogwash’ message. The coalition consists of the Arizona Pork Council, Arizona Cattlemen's Association, United Dairymen of Arizona and the Arizona Farm Bureau. Klinker is Farm Bureau's executive secretary.
Klinker said the issue is not about stall size. Arizona hogs are raised humanely in a safe, clean environment and are fed a nutritious diet of corn, soybeans and supplements. The real issue is about out-of-state animal activists trying to force their anti-meat, pro-vegetarian and pro-vegan lifestyle on every Arizonan, he noted. The activists' goal is to knock off the small hog-producing states like Arizona and Florida and work to derail hog and veal production in larger livestock production states, said Klinker.
“You can bet your bottom dollar they're headed for other states,” said Arizona Pork Council Executive Director Tom Miller. The two groups behind Prop 204, Farm Sanctuary and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), want the scalps of Florida and Arizona on their belt, he noted. “Once they get four or five scalps on the belt, the activists are headed to the Midwest.” He said the groups profess to support small family farms and oppose larger operations.
The public hasn't been presented all of the facts, said Miller. The activists claim the initiative is designed to protect small family farmers. In reality, the proposal — if passed — would hurt small family farmers and the young people who want to raise hogs as part of a youth training project, he said.
Arizona, ranked 27th in the nation in hog production, includes a single large hog operation, PFFJ LLC. It dots the desert landscape about 20 miles north of Snowflake, Ariz. While Prop 204 would prohibit veal production, not a single calf is raised for veal in the Grand Canyon State. Florida voters approved a similar proposal in 2002 sponsored by the same activist groups. The doors to the sunshine state's two hog operations are now closed.
To appear with 18 other proposals on the State of Arizona's crowded November ballot, Prop 204 is officially called the proposed “Humane Treatment of Farm Animals Act.” While the Arizona Secretary of State's office required 116,000 petition signatures to make the ballot, the activists' Web site claims 218,273 signatures were submitted.
“It's no shocker that the animal rights activists collected the signatures,” said Klinker. “If you feed someone enough hogwash, you can get them to do almost anything. However, if the activists told the truth that the initiative is funded by two of the largest out-of-state animal rights organizations in the country, and that these groups are pushing a national anti-farm agenda that they previously launched in Florida, I seriously doubt they would have gotten any more than a few signatures. It's a hogwash campaign,” he said.
The CAFR Web site is located at www.prop204.com.
According to the Secretary of State, the official ballot language states: “Pigs during pregnancy and calves raised for veal must be given sufficient space to turn around, lie down, and fully extend their limbs when tethered, or confined in crates, cages, or other enclosures; includes exceptions, such as for veterinary purposes and during the pig's pre-birthing period; the Act allows six years to adopt more humane practices and does not require mandatory expenditure of state revenues.”
If someone looks at the proposal's specifics, Miller said an exemption in the law allows pregnant sows to be in current-sized stalls up to seven days before birthing. Who really knows to the day when a sow will deliver, asked Miller, who owned and operated a hog operation in Maricopa, Ariz., for 15 years.
“Under the ballot language, a sow in the stall for eight days would mean the farmer or young person violated the law,” he said. “To fully comply with the law, a producer would be required to notify a state agency that the sow was placed in the stall. In seven days, the state employee would by law return on the seventh day to make sure the piglets were born within the legal time period.”
Miller called the ballot language “flawed, poorly written and not thought out.” If a law exists, he said it should be enforced. Who is going to enforce it, he asked. “If you're expecting the Arizona Department of Agriculture (ADA) to inspect every sow which is pregnant, when they enter a stall and when it delivers, it's not going to happen. The ADA is taxed to the hilt. They have no room to do anything more,” he said.
The United Dairymen of Arizona (UDA) cooperative, whose 71 members produce 85 percent of the milk in the state, is concerned about the ballot proposal because the cooperative's members recognize that the goals of the groups funding this initiative are much broader in scope than simply hogs and veal.
“Their goal is the elimination of the livestock industry in the United States. Prop 204 is one of many steps along the way,” said UDA Member Relations Manager Frances Lechner. She attended one of the organizing meetings for the initiative last October, and said they were riding high on their Florida victory of 2002.
“They outlined their strategy very clearly — they will go state to state building on the momentum of previous successes. So dairy producers around the country should anticipate that their state could be the next target for animal rights groups like PETA, Animal Liberation Front, HSUS, Farm Sanctuary and more,” Lechner said.
Klinker defended current hog-raising techniques and said production methods are supported by the American Veterinary Medical Association and decades of university-based research on livestock production practices. He called the coalition's ‘hogwash’ campaign a simple message to offset the other side's misleading campaign of pulling at emotional heartstrings for humane treatment that in reality already exists.
The CAFR has installed yellow and black hogwash signs at major road intersections across the state to gain the attention of passing motorists. It is a simple message for a very complex, emotional issue.
The claim that Arizona farmers and ranchers do not treat their animals humanely is a slap in the face to the agricultural community, said Klinker. Livestock producers have a moral obligation to care for animals and an economic motive to treat animals more than just ‘humanely.’
According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service's Arizona office, livestock receipts represent more than one-half of Arizona agriculture's $9.2 billion economic contribution.